Virtual Reality and eLearning: An Introduction

Virtual Reality or VR as it is popularly known as, has been around for longer than we know. A peek into the history and we know that though the initial concept revolved around creating an illusion, the modern concept in fact originated from science fiction, Stanley G. Weinbaum's short story-Pygmalion's Spectacles according to Wikipedia.

From Sensorama, Aspen Movie Map, Virtual Fixtures system to the Sega VR the evolution of VR devices has been commendable indeed. Today we have affordable, lightweight VR headsets that can be used by almost everybody. What made this possible is the advancement in mobile technology with advanced sensors and the whole enchilada.  According to Statista, “the economic impact of VR/AR is forecast to amount to 29.5 billion U.S. dollars in 2020.” As discussed in a previous post the use of VR has expanded into the education space and there are things we need to be wary about.

However, even before that, we need to look at what makes VR a good choice for training or learning. What connects?

Immersive, Explorative, Interactive

Though more popularly used by game developers, learning developers too are now finding ways to create immersive, explorative and interactive virtual space where learners can learn as they explore using the VR headsets and navigation controls. 360 videos are easily available on YouTube allowing learners to visit places they have never been to, explore new environments. Learning providers too have been working on creating virtual spaces with branching scenarios etc.

Risk Free

VR is prevalently used in flight training, medical, space and military training. The used of stimulators reduces the actual risk and allows the learners to improve their technical, motor skills in a virtual environment that entirely mimics the real-world scenarios.

Freedom to Experiment

Learning does not happen all at once. VR helps when experimentation, is required to find out the various outcomes, in a risk -free environment. VR has already shown great potential in the field of architecture, where architects experiment with 3D models. Even in medical science, surgeries are practiced virtually to ensure the positive outcomes without harming the patient.

VR also saves money and time, through reduced resource utilizations, reduced travel costs, increased safety, and most importantly through reduced influence of extrinsic factors.

Today most L&D providers focus on mobile VR systems that are more affordable. The entire unit comprises of a device (smartphone), a VR headset, and an input controller for interaction with the virtual environment- the controls are gesture based, sensors for head tracking, or using tracking pads.

Virtual classrooms, virtual tours, can be delivered through Learning management systems, using the VR’s SDK functionalities.

University of Michigan Football program, allows the potential candidates to experience the real-game using VR. Growing number of colleges offer a virtual campus tour to potential students. Schools in the US have been using VR to conduct virtual field trips to Amazon and even Mars.

VR has already been prevalent in Military and medical trainings, has now been incorporated into distance learning too (University of British Columbia has already delivered lectures in VR), and marketing firms too have been using it well enough. While VR has gained prevalence in the area of K12 education, it still is at it’s infancy in corporate learning space. However, with its growing popularity and easy access to devices, it can soon influence the way training is delivered in manufacturing, oil and gas sectors and almost all high-risk sectors where learning in a virtual environment can keep the employees performance ready.

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